Offering Comfort and a Warm Paw to Victims of Sexual Assault
If you spend time at our LCS Northwest office in Spokane, you will likely meet a pair of nearly inseparable teammates: Mark Kloehn and Walker. Mark is the tall and chatty biped. Walker is the furry quadruped who will greet you with a friendly tail wag.
Mark (he/him) is a Sexual Assault and Crime Victim Advocate for us. He is also a trained facility dog handler and caregiver. Walker (he/him) is our certified Courthouse Facility Dog.
We recently had a conversation with them about their work and its impact on victims of crime and sexual assault.
What is a courthouse facility dog and what does it do?
Walker: Woof! That’s me! I’m a courthouse facility dog!
Mark: That’s the short answer. Courthouse facility dogs like Walker are professionally trained to provide calming support to crime victims during stressful situations like detective interviews and legal proceedings. Facility dogs are trained to work in legal settings and are typically placed with prosecuting attorneys, detectives, Children’s Advocacy Centers and victim advocates like LCS.
How did the two of you meet and form this partnership?
Mark: Several years ago, Ligeia DeVleming, who was my supervisor at the time, learned about courthouse facility dogs. She believed that our victims could benefit from having access to a trained dog on our team. I agreed to be the handler and caregiver for a dog, we applied for training through Assistance Dogs Northwest and were accepted.
I met Walker in 2018 when I received my training to be a handler and caregiver. We spent a week training together and getting to know each other at the Assistance Dogs Northwest facility on Bainbridge Island. This was followed by a week of field training in Spokane.
Walker: The rest is history.
How does your work help the victims that you serve?
Mark: Our role as victim advocates is to support our clients. We especially like to have Walker available when a victim is making a report to law enforcement, having a detective interview, and meeting with prosecutors and defense attorneys. Victims can be really nervous about telling their story in detail and Walker’s quiet presence can help them calm down.
Walker: I give victims a warm paw to hold and a furry ear to scratch so they can find the courage they need to tell their story.
Mark: Here’s an example. One of Walker’s first defense interviews involved a young woman in her late teens. She’s sitting on the floor under the table in our conference room, sobbing into Walker’s fur as she tells her story. During the interview, she discloses more of what happened including identifying another offender who had not been previously named. The investigation had to be reopened to include a second suspect. That’s the power of Walker.
Are you and Walker currently working on any interesting projects?
Mark: As a matter of fact, yes. Walker and I are partnering with Spokane Police Department on the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI). There’s a backlog of untested sexual assault kits and Washington state has mandated that they all get tested. As a result, some of these kits are providing enough evidence to reopen a case. Walker and I are part of the team reconnecting with the victims and providing the kind of trauma-informed care they need.
Walker: What Mark said. We are here for the victims.
Does Walker interact with and support other members of your Spokane team?
Mark: Absolutely. His secondary role is to provide emotional support to staff when they’ve had a rough day. Prior to COVID, we gathered weekly for processing meetings to discuss tough cases. Walker always attended those meetings and team members enjoyed petting and cuddling with him.
Walker: My teammates work so hard to help victims of sexual assault and other crimes heal from their trauma, find justice and regain hope. It’s an honor to play or snuggle with them at the end of a hard day to make them feel better.
How do you decompress at the end of the day?
Walker: Play! Let’s play, Mark!
Mark: Yes, we play! It’s an important part of Walker’s down time. I also take him for a daily walk to ensure that he gets adequate exercise.
Learn more about this life saving work in Spokane: Victim Advocacy and Education. This article from the Spokesman-Review provides information about eliminating the backlog of sexual assault test kits and pursuing investigations.